Video games have become a central piece of media culture. Adults and children alike pore over them for hours for a little virtual fun. But we now know that digital media can affect our brains in interesting and sometimes harmful ways.
Some parents consider video games addictive and say they lead to social isolation or violent behavior. According to Pew Research Center, 62% of respondent parents believe that video games don’t affect their kids; 13% of them think gaming has a negative impact; 19% claim that it has a positive impact; and 5% see video games as having a positive and negative influence, depending on the game. So, are video games that bad for you?
Now, we have some new evidence suggesting that video games can actually have mental benefits.
For kids, gaming could boost brain function. According to a new study from the University of Vermont, children who regularly play video games outperform those who don’t in tasks involving impulse control and memory. With more than 2,000 child participants, researchers in the university’s psychiatry department tested children who game at least 21 hours a week and those who don’t play at all.
Bader Chaarani, the lead author of the study, explained, “Children who play three hours or more of video gaming per day outperform kids who never played any type of video games in terms of impulse control and working memory. In addition to this better performance, we are seeing brain activation changes in key areas of the brain involved in vision, attention and memory processing.”
Adults, too, may benefit from playing. Daphne Bavelier and C. Shawn Green, who helped kick off video game research in the 90s, published an article in 2016’s issue of Scientific American saying, “Individuals who regularly play action games demonstrate improved ability to focus on visual details, useful for reading fine print in a legal document or on a prescription bottle. They also display heightened sensitivity to visual contrast, important when driving in thick fog … The multitasking required to switch back and forth between reading a menu and holding a conversation with a dinner partner also comes more easily.”
So, go ahead, game away.